California Takes Aim at Industry with Housekeeper-Specific Safety Proposal

By Benjamin Ebbink Of Counsel, Fisher Phillips | May 07, 2017

Responding to years of pressure from union advocates and their allies, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) has proposed a first-in-the-nation, industry-specific rule aimed at hotel housekeepers. If enacted, this proposal would greatly impact the industry in California (as well as operators who conduct business in multiple states including California). In addition, as California tends to lead the nation in employment and workplace safety standards, operators in other states should monitor this proposal closely – what happens in California may come to your state next!

After many years of discussion and debate, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board recently issued a proposed standard on “Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention.” The proposal currently is open for public comment and will be considered further by the Board at a public hearing on May 18 in Oakland.

How We Got Here

For many years now, worker representatives (especially hotel worker union UNITE HERE) have advocated for special protections for hotel housekeepers, who they claim are exposed to serious occupational risks in the course of their normal work duties. In recent years, these advocates have pushed for local and state legislation to address issues such as hotel housekeeper workload, safe work practices, and other occupational standards. Several years ago, there was even (unsuccessful) California state legislation that would have required hotels to use “fitted” bottom sheets and long-handled tools to reduce the alleged strain on housekeepers.

Back in January 2012, UNITE HERE filed a petition with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board requesting the adoption of a specific standard to address workplace safety issues for hotel housekeepers. Among other things, the petition called for a ceiling of 5, 000 square footage of total room space that employees may be assigned to during an 8-hour shift, a prohibition on requiring workers to clean bathroom floors and toilets in a stooped or kneeling position, mandatory use of fitted bottom sheets, and other specific requirements.

In May 2012, the Board rejected Cal/OSHA’s recommendation to grant the petition, but subsequently requested that Cal/OSHA convene an advisory committee to discuss the issue further. From October 2012 through December 2015, Cal/OSHA convened five advisory committee meetings to solicit input from stakeholders.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.